GREENVILLE - Rhonda Williams, 4-H educator and county extension director, is always a familiar face at the Great Darke County Fair.
She was seen a lot in the Extension Office’s barn set up north of the Youth Building this week.
“I’ve been manning the booth and we have display from our archives and information on various 4-H programs,” said Williams, who indicated this is the 100th anniversary of extension.
She said she doesn’t regret ever having gone into this career.
“One of the great pleasures of the job is watching the kids grow up and mature,” she said. “Now, I have their grandchildren. It’s awesome to see continual dedication to the program. That’s the fulfilling part of my job.”
She said she also appreciates all of the 4-H volunteers.
“We have 240 with 1,175 4-H members,” she said.
Williams has been with the OSU Extension Office in Darke County since 1995. She started out as program assistant for Family Consumer Science (FSC) and 4-H and did that until May 1998, at which time she was hired as 4-H educator. She then became county director in 2002 and still holds both titles.
Up until the fall of 2009, she had been the 4-H extension agent. However, because she had a 20-pound, benign tumor removed, she urged senior fair board to get a successor for her. And, they did. It is Beth Martin who is now the junior fair coordinator.
Williams said when she first began working for extension, they were known as agents and in the past few years that titled has changed to educators.
“When I was in college, I had hoped to become an extension home economist, now known as Family and Consumer Science educator,” she said. “Upon graduation from OSU, Pat and I got married and lived in several states as we traveled with his job. From 1981-89, we lived in Kansas, Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana. In 1989, we moved back to Ohio.”
She went on, “Since we changed locations frequently in those eight years, I did not have the opportunity to seek employment with extension. My favorite jobs that I held during the time we were out of state were being the manager/instructor of The Hickory Stick Quilt Shop in Quincy, Illinois, Quilting/Craft teacher at the Crafty Corner in Worthington, Minnesota, and being the fabric buyer/instructor at Lowery’s Sewing Center in Warsaw, Indiana.”
Williams said she always knew that she wanted to be a teacher.
“But, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be in formal education,” she said. “The informal education aspect of extension allows me to work with both youth and adults, in a non-formal setting. Each day is different and I have flexibility to design and implement my own programs and classes. In 1994, I was contacted about the program assistant opening at the Darke County Extension Office and I applied. I was hired. Since the position involved both FCS and 4-H it was a natural fit for me.”
She named several people when asked her who mentors were.
“I was a 4-H member when Dennis Baker was our 4-H agent. Diane Johnson was in the office and Margaret Jeffiers was then the home economics agent,” she said. “I worked with them when I was a member. And, Alice Frantom, my home economics teacher at Ansonia, inspired me. I enjoyed her classes because I always enjoyed FCS-type projects.”
During her years with extension, Williams helped get 4-H in the classroom started.
“We didn’t have any in the classrooms and we put it in six school districts, working primarily with grades K-5,” she said. “Another program is Real Money/Real World, which was started in 2002 with fourth- or fifth-graders in Greenville elementary schools to teach the students what it is like to be adults out in the real world.”
She is also currently working with a program with the Education Service Center with Lisa Preston, who does most of the coordination for it. It’s for high school students with special needs.
Williams, the former Rhonda Rhoades and daughter of Lowell and Eileen Rhoades, is no stranger to the 4-H program.
“I was extremely active in 4-H,” she said. “I was a 4-H member in Darke County for nine years. I was a member of the Jr. Leader Club, Jr. Fairboard, County 4-H Committee and a 4-H camp counselor. I had the opportunity to attend National 4-H Congress in Chicago, Illinois, in 1977 as a result of being a state winner with my breads project. I also participated in 4-H public speaking and demonstration contests and represented Darke County at the district and state level numerous times. I credit my communication skills and leadership skills to my involvement in 4-H as a child.”
Williams and husband Pat met when they were both students at The Ohio State University. He is originally from Waterville in Lucas County.
“We have been married 33 years, and are looking forward to becoming first-time grandparents in November,” she said.
The couple’s daughters are Meagan (Scott) Caniglia of Beavercreek and Nicole, a senior at OSU studying economics.
The 1977 Ansonia High School graduate earned her bachelor of science degree from The Ohio State University (OSU) in home economics, now known as human ecology, and in 2003, received her master of science in human and community resource development with extension emphasis.
“When I was hired, I didn’t have my master’s,” Williams said. “I was already in graduate school. For six years, I traveled back and forth to Columbus for school part-time, had two children, a husband and was working full-time. I couldn’t have done that without him and without my parents. There were days the girls didn’t see me. Pat was Mister Mom at the time and working full-time as well.”
Williams likes to spend time with her family and reading.
“I am on a first-name basis with most of the librarians at the Greenville Public Library,” she said.
In addition to Extension, she serves as vice president of the Ansonia Board of Education, having just been elected to her third term. She is also president of the Darke County OSU Alumni Club and is a past member of the board of trustees for Bridges to College.
“I feel honored to have been featured in this series and am not really sure that I deserve it, but it’s always nice to be recognized for doing a job that I love,” she said.